Music News

How a Shirtless Guy on a Porch and a Wandering Biker Started the Revivalists

Brantley Gutierrez
The Revivalists will play the Westword Music Showcase on Saturday, June 24.
A few days ago, Rob Ingraham, saxophonist for New Orleans-based roots-rock/soul group the Revivalists, was passing through customs, returning to the U.S. after a string of shows in Canada. When the customs officer asked him why he'd gone to Canada, he told her "Business," to which her follow-up question was, "What business?" He replied that his band, the Revivalists, had been touring in the country, and he was now headed home.

"Oh, the Revivalists?" said the customs officer. "I really like your guys's music."

It caught Ingraham off-guard to find that his act's popularity was so far-reaching. He describes the exchange as one of those "Whoa" moments in his group's history that gives him a sense of excitement and pride for what's been accomplished.

And a lot has been accomplished since the outfit's chance beginnings, one morning in New Orleans, when guitarist Zack Feinberg decided to take a different route to work on his bike and encountered frontman David Shaw, shirtless and singing on his front porch.

The two struck up a conversation, and within a few weeks an early incarnation of the Revivalists was playing gigs around town. They self-released their self-titled debut EP in 2008 and started logging countless hours on the road. Ingraham notes that in those early years, the band might have hit 200 shows in one year.

Ingraham cites the Revivalists' relentless touring as one of the reasons the group is so tight: "Playing lots of shows together makes it easier to figure out whose role is what." This awareness shows in the music, with no member overstepping his sonic boundaries and everyone's sound shining through and melding with the rest of the band.

In 2015, the musicians released their third album, Men Amongst Mountains, an hour-long collection of soulful melodies displayed over the band's grooving rhythm section and impressive musicianship. The Revivalists benefit greatly from their varied instrumentation, with sax, trumpet and pedal steel adding interesting touches that set their songs apart from similar bands'.

When asked what he hopes an audience member will come away thinking after a show, Ingraham chuckles and replies, "'I'm gonna come back and bring a friend.'" The Revivalists have found that the best way to accomplish that is by "bringing people to the spaces the songs come from."

That can include a variety of settings. Ingraham mentions that the melodic slow jam "Monster" came out of a sound check at one of the band's shows. Other times, the tunes are born from jam sessions or ideas brought in by bandmembers (usually Shaw or Feinberg) that are then fleshed out by the entire group. Ingraham says all that really matters whether if they like the song: "We don't worry, 'Does this sound like us?' [...] We just care that it sounds good."

This approach to writing has helped them create a repertoire that is both varied in style and consistent in quality. The single "Wish I Knew You" has proven the most successful song to date; it's still receiving plenty of radio play and even earned the band the opportunity to play the tune live on The Today Show. Ingraham cites this as well as a performance on the main stage at last year's Jazz & Heritage Festival in the musicians' home town of New Orleans as important moments in their career.

Despite the obvious success these milestones represent, the Revivalists' ardent love for their craft keeps them seeking more. The bandmates recently went into the studio to cut demos for the followup to Men Amongst Mountains, and on June 24, they'll be playing the Westword Music Showcase.

Ingraham says the band is excited to be returning to Denver and fondly remembers playing at Cervantes' in the group's early years.

"In Denver, we've been able to build a relationship the old-fashioned way.... Each time we play there, [the crowd] gets bigger." Next Saturday might be the Revivalists' biggest Denver crowd to date, when they'll get the audience moving at the Coors Lite Stage at the Showcase.

Westword Music Showcase, with the Revivalists, June 24, Golden Triangle Neighborhood. Buy tickets and find more info online.